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Why Do Women Make Less? The History Behind the Pay Gap

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of 2, and a published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction

Women under 35 without children are now earning as much as male counterparts with equal education in the largest cities in the United States. Why, then, do women make less on average, and what is the history of the pay gap?

Source

Reasons for the Historical Gender Pay Gap

1. Men tend to go into higher paying professions or those with greater pay potential, such as high volume sales and programming. This is partially due to the greater aggressiveness of men and partially due to individual preferences.

2. Men are more likely to work in low skill but high risk occupations that pay a lot, from construction to mining. Their low skill female counterparts are working in safer and thus lower paid positions like childcare, health services, customer service and food service. Men are paid a premium for getting dirty, risking injury and doing hard, physical labor.

3. Women are more likely to work part time, especially those with children. This reduces their annual wages. Women have also been more likely to take off summers with their children. If a husband and wife were teachers, he could work another job over the summer while his wife stayed home with the children.

4. Career entries and exits hurt earnings. This happens whether a man is unemployed for two to three years or a woman leaves for a few years to be a stay at home parent. Upon re-entry to the workforce, the worker generally receives less than they did before or their same pay grade. But the salary that they receive upon returning to the workforce is rarely higher, since they lack multiple years of raises from increasing experience or seniority.

5. Part of the historical pay gap was due to lower educational attainment of women. Women who would in previous generations have been nurses are now doctors – and make as much as the male doctors, as long as they do not cut back their hours or step off the career track as parents. With women now earning 55-60% of the bachelor’s degrees, the pay gap due to educational levels is now reversing.

6. Women often made less on average simply because they were stay at home mothers. If she did earn money, it was through work at home jobs such as handicrafts, care of another child, baking, sewing, ironing or other low skill tasks. They counted as part of the work force due to the low income, but this was primarily due to the choice to arrange a lifestyle to be the primary caregiver of their own child.

7. Jobs with a high percentage of travel tend to pay well. Mothers with children generally cannot take these positions. After all, even with the rise of daycare, there are few overnight care positions available if there is no father in the home or the father already travels.

8. Jobs demanding 60-80 hours a week, something called "overwork", tend to pay more. Unfortunately, being a parent adds 20-40 hours a week to one's schedule. Women with children can rarely work the hours of these higher paying positions and be parents. More women opt for part time pay, and this slows their earnings growth even if they return to full time work. Women are both less likely to take jobs that require overwork, and if they take those positions, they are more likely than men to quit those positions.

9. Older women see their earnings eroded by the care-giving gap. An aging parent is more likely to receive care from a daughter than a son. Even those who move in with a son receive care from daughters in law or hired (mostly female) help. Because women outlive men, they often end up dropping out of the workforce to care for deteriorating spouses.

10. Recent studies have found that women tend to make less than men in comparable jobs because they are less likely to negotiate a salary or pay raise. They don't want to seem confrontational or demanding, so they get less. Even if they start with comparable pay, their pay raises may not be as great as their male counterparts because they do not stand up and demand them.

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